Concert review: SPCO with conductor-composer Matthias Pintscher

Matthias Pintscher
Star Tribune

By William Randall Beard

Lovers of new music are being well-served this weekend by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Composer-conductor Matthias Pintscher leads the orchestra in the world premiere of his “bereshit (In the Beginning)” for Large Ensemble, heard Friday night at the Ordway Center.

The SPCO co-commission has strong intellectual underpinnings, but carries the audience on a powerful and explicit musical journey.

It began quietly, depicting a state of nothingness, the void before creation. A single note, F-natural on the double bass, echoed throughout the orchestra. Complex sounds began to emerge, primordial sounds.

Then came the sense of something being created, emerging chaotically out of the morass. From there, the music seemed to organize itself, not into traditional melodies per se, but into solo utterances against the orchestral miasma. Principal second violin Kyu-Young Kim was particularly effective.

The process of creation is never structured. It is by nature formless and in capturing that, the work had a few unnecessary longueurs. But it never seemed far from the chaos as the sounds evolved and transformed organically.

This is the kind of piece for people who don’t think they like contemporary music. Pintscher created nontraditional sounds but ones that made perfect sense in the riveting arc of the unfolding drama.

In a wise bit of programming, the first half was a series of light miniatures, leaving the audience prepared for the heavy work to come. Pintscher conducted with a real sense of esprit and the orchestra played this music with the same finesse that they brought to “bereshit.”

He captured the rapturous Romantic tone poem that is Mendelssohn’s “Fair Melusina” Overture, which summarizes the opera’s familiar tale of a water sprite. He did the same with two pieces from Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Fauré and Debussy were represented by their unique takes on antique dance forms. Fauré’s Pavane, a French dance from the Renaissance, sounded ancient and hauntingly modern. In Debussy’s Sarabande from “Pour la Piano,” a stately reimagining of a Baroque dance, orchestrated by Ravel, the orchestra shimmered.

The “Deux Marches et un intermède” by Poulenc began with the sparkling “Marche 1869,” a nostalgic evocation of the Belle Époque. By the final “Marche 1937,” the impending war in Europe hung heavily over the music.